Does the Dalai Lama Live with ADHD?

Eastern Attention Develops in the West

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama as a child

Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia is becoming known as Tibet West. Together with professors at Emory, the Dalai Lama has cultivated an academic exchange relationship spanning over twenty years. A goal of this academic and scientific collaboration of Emory professors and Tibetan monks is to develop a new scientific vocabulary in the Tibetan language in order for the monks and nuns to be able to learn cell biology, an academic topic never before offered to them. The Dalai Lama initiated this pairing to better understand the universe and the value of Buddhism as it applies to creation and to enlightenment (this is my interpretation of their mission in the west).

Biology and Buddhism

It seems that his holiness, the Dalai Lama, was given free reign over much of his time as a child living in the palace. There he roamed the palace rooms full of treasures, gifts from leaders across the world, and in one room he found a telescope. The Dalai Lama was curious and his tutors allowed his intelligence to lead his interests so that he developed an awareness and knowledge of the stars and science, previously not offered in Buddhist education. From that spark, he found his way to microscopes and became curious about cells and molecules and his curiosity led to a deeper desire to understand the world and science and hence, a deeper experience of Buddhism.

Intelligence and Attention

The child Dalai Lama was monitored by loving monks whose job was to develop in him an aesthetic sense of his place in the world, and to develop skills he would need to lead his people in both the spiritual and political life of Tibet. Nonetheless, he was allowed to drift and come upon what interested him. The same is true today. A story is told of him visiting Emory Hospital for a meeting. In order to get to the meeting, he had to walk down a long hall lined with people waiting for medical services. The Dalai Lama stopped to say something to every person in the hallway. That kindness is his natural inclination no matter who is waiting for him. The Emory escort finally had to insist the Dalai Lama conclude his visiting in the hallway in order to attend the meeting. It is my suggestion that his narrow attention to one thing appears to be a distraction to observers. His impulsive nurturing would be viewed as disruptive to some while others would see it as a kind behavior.

While the Tibetans are in exile, their leader pays attention to a compassionate relationship with Chinese oppressors. In so doing, he exports the Buddhist values of attention in its many forms, meditation as a type of healing attention, and exemplifies how to use attention in a difficult world.

It is a rare privilege today for our children to pay attention to what they are really interested in. Can you remove from your homes or their sports activities one of their daily distractions and observe how they then choose to use their attention? There may be a few ruffled feathers at first but with patience and nurturing your child may develop a new interest that cultivates their developing mind. In what room in your home will they discover their strengths and personal interests?

Your Attention Coach

Maureen Nolan



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One Response to Does the Dalai Lama Live with ADHD?

  1. Linda May 10, 2016 at 4:59 am #

    Hello, I was very surprised to come across this article with this title in particular. I have not looked around your site yet, but wanted to comment anyway.

    I have practiced and studied Buddhism for a little over ten years and have gotten to know a few Tibetan Buddhist teachers very well. I have concluded that many of them fit the ADHD bill. The one I am closest to agreed with this typing.

    I have thought A LOT about this and have been VERY interested in discussing and exploring this with other people but I am hard pressed to find anyone who will entertain the notion. (Not only does it seem like a contradiction (poor attention together with meditative concentration?) but who am I as some unenlightened being to accurately perceive/judge the cognition of my teachers?) This is how it must come off.

    One thing is that I think the relationship between ADHD and meditative concentration is grossly misunderstood. I think the “focusing” issues with ADHD are actually pretty much unrelated to the type of concentration that meditation aims to achieve as outlined in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. While it might be difficult for ADHDers to sit still (???), I think they are just as well suited (IF NOT MORE SO) to derive the ultimate purpose of such practices (i.e., all the stages of the path up to and including enlightenment). Given the prevalence of this “disorder” among teachers in this tradition, I have concluded that for some people, ADHD might be an aid on this path. This is my thought.

    Out of the various teachers I have met, HHDL is not one I would have categorized as ADHD, but I really LIKE the interpretation you’ve suggested in this article. Thanks for posting this and sharing your thought. I’d be very interested to hear anything else you might have to say on this topic. Please let me know if you do or have already posted anything else related to this. Thanks.


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